Aboriginal Diggers, the forgotten men of the AIF (2023)

Category: Indigenous

Wangaratta, Vic. 1940-12.

Aboriginal soldiers from the special platoon consisting of aboriginal soldiers, all volunteers, at Number 9 Camp at Wangaratta. V85813 Major Joseph Albert (Bert) Wright, a World War 1 Light Horse veteran, was in charge of this Platoon, which was the only all-Aboriginal squad in the AMF (Australian Military Forces). (Donor S. Clarke) >>>>>>>

See the Reg Saunders MBE page.

1940-09. Somewhere at sea. Sergeant Reg Saunders - the aboriginal soldier is held in excellent regard by both officers and men, and is one of the smartest men in the company. (negative by R. Williams).

Reg Saunders was born in 1920, in Purnum, Victoria, near the Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve. He came from a long line of soldiers. Both his father and his uncle served in the First World War. His uncle, Wm. Reg Rawlings, for whom he was named, received a Military Medal for action at Morlancourt Ridge, France. Rawlings was killed in action at Vauvillers, in 1918 >>

Aboriginal Diggers, the forgotten men of the AIF (6)

Wm. Reg Rawlings MM

Seymour, Vic. 1944-11-25. Lieutenant R. W. Saunders, 2/7th Infantry Battalion (1), receives his stars from Lieutenant General J. Northcott (3), during the graduation ceremony of course No. 14 held at the Infantry Wing, Officer Cadet Training Unit Seymour, Lieutenant Saunders was the first aboriginal to obtain a commission in the Australian forces. At the background stands Lieutenant Colonel J.A. Wilmoth, Commandant (2).
Seymour, Vic. 1944-11-25. Lt T.C. Derrick, VC DCM (right) shaking hands with Lt R.W. Saunders (left), as they congratulate each other following their successful graduation from the Officer Cadet Training Unit at Seymour. Lieutenant Saunders was the first aboriginal commissioned in the Australian army.
Captain (Capt) Reg Saunders (right), commander of C Company, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), shakes hands with a member of K Company, 19th Regimental Combat Team (RCT), 6th Republic of Korea (ROK) Infantry Division, which has just arrived on Salmon to relieve 3RAR. A few days after the handover, the ROK troops abandoned the hill when Chinese forces attacked. Capt Saunders was the first Aboriginal serviceman to command a rifle company. (Donor I. Robertson)
Northwest Australia. 1943-02-01. To provide fresh meat for allied soldiers in the north west area the army established its own slaughter yards, cooling chambers and delivery system about 10 miles north of Katherine. Butchers from the army resumed civil occupation, on army pay, and aboriginal labour was used to bring the cattle into the slaughter yards from widely dispersed areas. Three of the aboriginal stockmen are shown here, from the left they are, Bobby of the Alligator tribe, Paddy of the Myall tribe and John Buckley (12 years old) of the Alligator tribe. (negative by H. Turner).

Some (an unknown number) of aboriginal soldiers served in the first AIF. Many aboriginals hid or tried to hide their ethnic origin, claiming to be Maori or Islander in an attempt to avoid the bureaucracy that wanted to "protect" them and the contempt of some (only some) white Australians who looked down on "Abos" but not (to the same degree) on other dark skinned races.

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Aboriginal Diggers, the forgotten men of the AIF (11)

"Remembering the Aboriginal people who served in the Australian forces"

This memorial is on public land - at the base of Mount Ainslie behind the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, ACT. It was placed there by a local non-Aboriginal citizen several years ago.
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  • He came and joined the colours, when the War God's anvil rang,

    • He took up modern weapons to replace his boomerang,

    • He waited for no call-up, he didn't need a push,

    • He came in from the stations, and the townships of the bush.

  • He helped when help was wanting, just because he wasn't deaf;

    • He is right amongst the columns of the fighting A.I.F.

    • He is always there when wanted, with his Owen gun or Bren,

    • He is in the forward area, the place where men are men.

  • He proved he's still a warrior, in action not afraid,

    • He faced the blasting red hot fire from mortar and grenade;

    • He didn't mind when food was low, or we were getting thin,

    • He didn't growl or worry then, he'd cheer us with his grin.

  • He'd heard us talk democracy--, They preach it to his face--

    • Yet knows that in our Federal House there's no one of his race.

    • He feels we push his kinsmen out, where cities do not reach,

    • And Parliament has yet to hear the Abo's maiden speech.

  • One day he'll leave the Army, then join the League he shall,

    • And he hopes we'll give a better deal to the Aboriginal.

Aboriginal Diggers, the forgotten men of the AIF (12)

Unidentified WW1 aboriginal servicemen

(By Sapper Bert Beros, a non-Aboriginal soldier in WW2, about an Aboriginal soldier, Private West).

Aboriginal serviceman, Corporal Harry Thorpe MM. Thorpe was born at the lake Tyers Mission Station, near sale, Victoria. He enlisted at Sale 1916-02-12, embarked in April and joined the 7th battalion in France 1916-07. He was wounded in action at Pozieres in 1916 and Bullecourt in 1917. In 1917-01 he was promoted to Lance Corporal. On the night of 1917-10-4/5 Thorpe was conspicuous for his courage and leadership during operations at Broodseinde, near Ypres, in Belgium. For his 'splendid example' he was promoted to Corporal and awarded the Military Medal, although the original recommendation from his unit was for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. During the advance 1918-08-09 at Lihons Wood, south-west of Vauvillers, France, a stretcher bearer found Thorpe shot in the stomach. He died shortly after and is buried in the Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres, France, with his friend William Rawlings, another aborigine who won the Military Medal, and was also killed on the same day. (donor A Jackomos)
1970. Studio portrait of 2791899 Private Gilbert Green, an aboriginal national serviceman who served in Vietnam 1970 as a rifleman with 7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR). (donor G. Green) Borneo, c. 1945. Private Victor McRae, an aboriginal serviceman (back row right side). (lent by H. Gibbs)
Goodooga, NSW, 1944. Private John Drought Bishop, an aboriginal serviceman, beside the Bokhara River. (lent by H. Gibbs)
Private Jack Wallace, an aboriginal serviceman from the Second World War. (lent by J. Cooper) Private Frank Williams, 8th Division, an aboriginal serviceman who died working on the Burma Thailand railway. (lent by G. Williams)
Hiro, Japan, 1947. Qx28023 Sergeant Ken Maynard, 66th Battalion, an aboriginal serviceman. (lent by C Johnston)
Camp Casey, South Korea. 1953-03. Private Steve Dodd, an aboriginal serviceman of 1 Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR). (donor D. Thomson) 1916. Studio portrait of 5435 Private William Joseph Punch, 1st Battalion, an aboriginal station hand born in Queensland, who enlisted 31 December 1915 in Goulburn, NSW (where he had been raised as a child). He died of pneumonia in England 1917-08-29, aged 37. (donor: K. Short)
C. 1916. Portrait of Private S. Cunningham, an aboriginal serviceman of the first world war. (donor G. Ardler)
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Aboriginal Diggers, the forgotten men of the AIF (23) Aboriginal soldier 370 Private Reginald Francis Hawkins, 6 Company, 42nd Battalion, twenty three years old, a station hand from Jericho, Queensland, who was captured at Armentieres on 1917-02-16. Private Hawkins is the brother of the Roughrider (horse-breaker) Harry Hawkins of 2nd Remount Unit. note . . .this is an extract from the AWM site. As there was no 6 Company I suspect that the reference is a typo. Either 6 Platoon or B Coy. Hawkins gets a special mention here because he served with my Dad in the 42nd Bn.


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